Mar 9, 2009 9:59pm
Re: a troll i am not: FIRST SHOW
I love telling this story. I was a senior in high school, Jan. 1978. I had no interest whatever in the Dead and was in fact mildly amused that some very cool friends were into it. I was heavily into prog rock(Yes, Gentle Giant, Genesis, PFM, Mahavishnu Orchestra etc), and tons of jazz and jazz fusion. The Dead was just some country music or something to me.
But I did love to party, and a party was promised, so I was in.
The show was 1-6-78 at the infamous Swing Auditorium at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds. For those of you unfamiliar with the environs, San Bernardino is a real hell-hole. The auditorium itself is (was; torn down now I hear) as funky as they get. We were in line way early of course, sitting around outside the fence that ran around the outside of the entire fairgrounds. The auditorium itself was somewhere inside. We had a few hours to kill so we did what we did best. Rolled about 40 or so joints and what-have-you. I could see that I rather like this crowd... these people were fuckin serious about their drugs. There was a dude sitting near me with a tea tray on his lap with a pile of buds, a couple of vials of honey hash oil, and some of those Club Cabaret jumbo size rolling papers (for making those Gorilla Fingers). This guy was gently heating the hash oil, then soaking down the crumbled-up bud, then rolling these cigars... and then just handing them out to whoever was sitting there. That would have been me. I said, Thanks man, this is fuckin great! And he just shrugged a little, whatever, like it was just the most regular thing in the world.
Meanwhile, my pal Nora, that little imp, handed me these 2 little purple pills. Little fuckers. They're not all that strong, so take two, she tells me. Who am I to argue.
When the open the turnstile gates on the exterior fence, the crowd mashed up so strongly that I thought we were going to get turned into meatballs from getting pushed right through the chain-link.
Once inside, we had pretty good position on the floor. Several good pals were there, although my best friend was sick and so his little brother Tim was there on his ticket. Tim was a pleasant but rather strange little cat who at that time was straight as could be. I started coming on hard; the first big clue being that I could see the short curtains over the top of the stage were blowing like mad in the wind but I couldn't feel any wind. Shit, I thought, are they really doing that? I looked harder and not only were they blowing in the wind, they were doing it in slow motion, and now they were torn and ragged and frayed like sails on an old pirate ship in gale force winds...
OK, look away from that, look away. Right. We're tripping now. Check. Got it.
I never knew 1) that there were so many Hells Angels in San Bernardino (I learned later that it was maybe second only to Oakland), and that 2) they would ALL turn out for a Dead concert. These bad boys were EVERYWHERE. All around us. Swigging out of bottles, smoking fat joints, snorting shit, pushing each other around, braying like laughing donkeys, and every now and then getting a little carried away and punching each other or even anyone getting in the way. Not quite out of control but very unnerving to this 18 year-old with a head-full. I kept a close eye on my other friend Jonathan, also tripping, because he was a Dead veteran and was ALWAYS as cool as a cuke. Jonathan wan't bothered by any of this in the least so maybe it was all normal.
The lights go out... the place goes fucking bananas. Like being caught in a rip tide. Equipment seemed to be a problem, it felt like we all stood in this pitch black pressure cooker for a long time. I knew nearly NONE of their tunes... just Casey Jones, Truckin, and the Chuck Berry covers. They played Promised Land which I almost recognized, and at least the music seemed to give this primordial stew of an audience something to chew on besides itself. Alas, it didn't last. Something happened; I learn later that phil broke a string (what the fuck! How common is that?), anyhow the house lights came back on and the band fucked around while the crowd go anxious again and I got back to the business of nearly shitting with fear at all these Hells Angels everywhere around me. Looking forward, I saw all of these shirts and jackets with skull logos on the backs, so right away there was this army of skeletons facing me., all kind of moving around randomly. I tried to act cool, Hiya boys, how's it going, and the whole time I'm thinking, how long before they mount an attack? Weir tells the bizarre deer hunting joke, which is basically a shaggy dog joke, it hardly has a punchline at all, and when you hear it on acid, you just get very confused. Worse yet, a guy next to me was yelling out the joke -- all of it -- one line or so ahead of Weir. The guy would yell "Yeah yeah, then he saw a fucking deer and he shot it yeah right Bobby..." and Weir would say "... and he saw a deer... and he took aim and shot it..."
So I am thinking OK I confess, I do not know what fucking planet I am on or what the hell goes on here. I manage to ask the guy an intelligent question, something along the lines of What the Fuck? The guy explains that he heard Weir tell the joke very recently and he's heckling him and so forth. I didn't even hear the rest of it because the Skeleton Army facing me was getting restless. Hells Angels and an army of skeletons, man my goose is cooked. I'm wondering if they are going to battle it out against each other once the lights go out again, or if they're going to team up and eat us all alive.
So just as I am starting to silently plead with all these spooks, saying come on now boys, be nice, I never did anything to you, so don't be killing me here in this crazy metal box. Pleeeeeze....
Lights out. Pan-de-fucking-monium. The band launches into Dire Wolf, not that I had ever heard it before in my life. The skeleton army facing me starts jumping up and down in unison, bouncing in time to the music and I am thinking oh shit it's their War Dance, they're getting all fired up to take the place by storm, and again I am silently pleading for my life...
...and then from somewhere... must be from the stage area, I hear these people singing... "I beg of you, don't murder me, pleeeeeze don't murder me..."
OK, this fucking bad is singing this. Who writes a song like this and sings it at a time like this? I figure I was just high and was making it up; the actual lyrics were probably something that sounded similar, but I was just making it my own because of what I was already going through. But no, here comes the next chorus and sure enough it's Pleeeeze don't murder me...
And guess what? IT WORKED! They didn't murder me! I started to feel like I might be in pretty good hands.
I learnmuch later that a lot of folks thought the show was a dog... Garcia had laryngitis and didn't sing any of the second set, but I had never seen any of it before so what did I know. There was something else I didn't know that was a particular interest to a jazz fan: they jam like crazy. Crazy... long-ass jams, well after the tunes are over. I kept thinking, how come no one ever told me they do this? How many people actually know about this.
Then I got flipped out again, thinking Oh shit, maybe they don't do this, maybe they are just trying to play a nice show and something has jumped the rails here and gone horribly out of control... maybe they are trying their best to find a way out of this jam, but it's hopeless, we'll all be sucked together into the black hole... oh shit, listen to this music, this is what the End of Everything sounds like... strangely, it was kind of beautiful.
I had to let go. Quit worrying. Quit wondering what the fuck was going on. Quit wondering whether any of the world would still be there if we ever came out of that room.
So, you know the rest... the jams went out out out... the drums went boom boom boom... there were dark and mysterious moments deep in that second set... and then of course they pulled us all through in the end with a real Indiana Jones-style rescue, swinging through on a jungle vine and swooping us up to safety with something real familiar like Johnny B....
And the lights came up and it was done. I said to Jonathan, shit man, I heard they're playing in 3 days over at the Shrine... I'm there!